University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) Essay Analysis, 2012–2013

Harvard Business School (HBS) made a splash this application season by introducing a reduced essay count, and then Wharton… keeps its essay count exactly the same but reduces the total word count across all of its essays by 100 words (even though they add 100 words for essay 1). Is that some kind of reaction to HBS’s adjustment? We doubt it, given that this is really just a minor change in the grand scheme of things. This year, applicants to Wharton must write a standard career essay and then choose two other essay topics from among three options thereafter. Our analysis follows…

Required Question:

How will a Wharton MBA help you achieve your professional objectives? (400 words)

Wharton previously asked a very similar question but gave candidates only 300 words with which to respond and did not explicitly ask candidates to discuss the school specifically. This season, Wharton is asking applicants to identify broad career goals and reveal how the school will be a crucial part of achieving those goals. You do not need to fawn and sing Wharton’s praises for your essay to be effective, however. Instead, you should show that you understand the specific resources that Wharton provides that relate directly to your stated career aspirations and that you have a plan in mind for using these resources to transform yourself into the professional you need to become. Simple as that.

Because Personal Statements are similar from one application to the next, we have produced the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. We offer this guide to candidates free of charge. Please feel free to download your copy today.

And for a thorough exploration of Wharton’s academic program/merits, defining characteristics, important statistics, social life, academic environment and more, please check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Respond to two of the following three questions:

1. Select a Wharton MBA course, co-curricular opportunity or extra-curricular engagement that you are interested in. Tell us why you chose this activity and how it connects to your interests. (500 words)

Although this essay provides another opportunity for you to reveal just how much you know about Wharton (and thus reveal your “fit” with its MBA program), this essay is still fundamentally about you and your interests/passions. For some reason, though, many applicants tend to feel obligated to respond to an essay prompt like this by discussing a professional talent or skill and relating it to a course at the school—and such essays run the risk of being painfully dull! Wharton definitely does not want to know that you have a skill that is a prerequisite of your position – maybe if a unique professional experience lurks behind your title (you are a currency trader for a hedge fund and have done a priori research in a country off the beaten path and can relate that experience to your interest in and contribution to a political economy course) you can discuss it, but the burden for this type of experience is clearly high.

With this question, Wharton is indicating that it wants to get to know you as a person, so do not be afraid to reveal your human interests. You can use this essay to reveal your distinctiveness and show not only that you can make a valuable contribution at the school but also that you fully understand how you will make that contribution. In 500 words, you should be able to provide appropriate context for the passion you choose to discuss and to then relate it to the school’s resources, thereby revealing your intimate knowledge of those resources. We recommend that you avoid overtly starting your essay with a statement like “I am interested in the Wharton Follies because…” Instead, consider telling a story about how that interest developed and then relate it specifically (in this case) to the Follies. In this way, you will better give the admissions committee a sense of who you will be on campus.

2. Imagine your work obligations for the afternoon were cancelled and you found yourself “work free” for three hours, what would you do? (500 words)

In some ways, this essay prompt is similar to the previous one, only it eliminates the need to discuss Wharton’s resources and allows you to focus exclusively on yourself. Let us revisit the example we introduced in our analysis of the first essay option in this section: a candidate who is an amateur stand-up comedian might write about his/her interest in being involved with the Follies for the previous essay, but for this essay, he/she might discuss using this unexpected free time to practice his/her material and find a local open-mic opportunity for that afternoon. In truth, the kind of activity you discuss is basically irrelevant, so long as it is not contrary to the school’s values. Instead, what is important is that you show that you have an extraordinary passion for a particular activity and that that activity can manifest itself in a compelling way.

3. “Knowledge for Action draws upon the great qualities that have always been evident at Wharton: rigorous research, dynamic thinking, and thoughtful leadership.” – Thomas S. Robertson, Dean, The Wharton School. Tell us about a time when you put knowledge into action. (500 words)

Quoting the dean is always a curious ploy by the admissions committee—perhaps it is trying to give him/her some level of star power or show the committee’s respect for him? Regardless, the quote here is really just a “red herring,” as they say. The key to an effective essay response to this prompt is showing how you put knowledge into action in your life—and you do not need to make an explicit connection to education to do so, like, “I took a class on marketing and then I implemented a marketing campaign.” Instead, you will need to show how you have acquired knowledge (through observation, listening, trial and error, etc.) and then used that knowledge to bring about a desired result. A successful essay will demonstrate a clear cause-and-effect relationship between how you applied your learnings and the results achieved. Do not be tempted to recycle a “leadership” essay you wrote for another school—you must show a direct connection between your thoughts, your actions and the ultimate reaction.

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